Nevada Receives Nearly $1 Million to Aid Prisoners with Drug Use History

By Paul Gaita 11/28/16

The state hopes to keep freed inmates from returning to prison for the same crimes.

Nevada Receives Nearly $1 Million to Aid Prisoners with Drug Use History
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The Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) has received a major federal grant to implement a program to reduce recidivism among state prison inmates with a history of substance use disorder.

The $978,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will be used to fund a statewide plan to support male inmates between the ages of 18 and 55 who are serving sentences for property crimes where drug use played a part in their offense, and who have been assessed as a moderate-to-very-high risk of committing another offense. Inmates with drug convictions not associated to property crimes will also be included in the program.

Property crime accounts for a substantial portion of all offenses in Nevada; in 2014, 80% of all crimes committed in the state were property-related, according to NDOC director James Dzurenda. By assisting individuals with a record of property crimes and a likelihood of committing a similar offense following their release, the state hopes to reduce recidivism rates by 15% over the next two years, and 50% in the next half-decade.

Released inmates who qualify for the program will receive enhanced case management that includes an emphasis on public safety and community programs.

A number of state agencies will be involved in administering the program, including the Nevada Division of Parole and Probation, the state Department of Health and Human Resources, and the Veteran Services Administration, with assistance from the University of Nevada, Reno.

"It is imperative that agencies have cross-access to information, and this grant will enable us to develop that data management system strengthening communication and information sharing, which will boost success rates," said Dzurenda.

Though ambitious, the plan has a precedent in the state of New York, which experienced drop-offs in recidivism rates with the help of various programs in the past decade.

The alternative—to build more prisons and continue with a security-only policy—has become infeasible due to the size of the state prison population. "We're at our limit now," said DOC spokesperson Brooke Keast. "We don't have a lot of space for new people to come in." 

The program has also generated some hope among inmates whose drug problems have led to numerous offenses and returns to prison. "If we'd had this program 20 years ago, I wish to God I'd have taken it, because I wouldn't have come back," said Danny Jarvis, who has spent 28 of his 43 years behind bars.

"I can directly link 10% of my criminal activity to my substance abuse problem and my addiction," said Jarvis. "I was supporting my drug addiction with criminal activity."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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